Faith-based leadership and a climate emergency

I was going to write a post about faith-based leadership when I came across this article –
Faith without works: Why the Prime Minister’s call to pray for rain is offensive

It was written by a Pastor and is very good. The author, Byron Smith, writes about a speech the Australian Prime Minister gave last year in which he said,

It’s great to see it raining here in Albury today. I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country. And I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that.

Smith says this is offensive to him as a Christian because of Morrison’s “profound disconnect between his professed prayers and the pro-coal – and thus anti-farmer – agenda of his government.

As an atheist it is offensive because it makes a mockery of a very serious issue and asks us to put our trust in superstition and the fairy in the sky. Imagine you are diagnosed with cancer and your doctor tells you to go home and pray rather than have effective treatment. How would you feel?

There was a study that examined the effects of prayer on patients who had undergone coronary bypass surgery at six hospitals. Patients were divided into three groups: group 1 and group 2 were told they may or may not receive prayers but only group 1 received prayers. Group 3 received prayers and knew about it. The results: complications from the surgery were 52% for group 1, 51% for group 2, and 59% for group 3. The best group was the one that didn’t get any prayers; receiving prayers turned out to be a bad thing!

Of course there’s no harm in praying for a sick person or for the environment but, as Smith says, the harm arises when prayer becomes a substitute for action.

Byron Smith goes on to highlight the Morrison government’s climate policy:

  • huge subsidies and very generous tax arrangements for coal, oil and gas;
  • threatening states that seek to limit gas extraction;
  • consistently seeking to water down international agreements (most recently at the Pacific Islands Forum);
  • opening up more native forests to clearing;
  • giving the green light to almost every proposed fossil fuel project;
  • watering down the Renewable Energy Target and criticising clean energy constantly;
  • thwarting investment stability;
  • ruling out any price on carbon;
  • attacking state governments that seek to reduce emissions;
  • cutting funding for climate research;
  • largely ignoring the public health effects from coal extraction and combustion;
  • abolishing the Climate Council;
  • ignoring the Climate Authority and then stacking it with pro-business figures;
  • misrepresenting climate science in public discourse;
  • offering the equivalent of the drug dealer’s defence (“if we stopped exporting coal, another country would meet the demand”);
  • attacking the funding of environmental NGOs;
  • operating a revolving door between government and the fossil fuel industry; and
  • failing to protect the Great Barrier Reef from bleaching while directing significant funds to an organisation that barely mentions climate change.

I am reminded of a 19th century mathematician and philosopher called William Clifford. I have told this story before – please forgive me if you read it last time – but it’s worth mentioning again for those who don’t know it. Clifford wrote about a ship owner who suspected his ship was rickety and dangerous but he didn’t want to have to pay for the repairs. Instead he put his trust in God and sent it across the Atlantic ocean where it sank killing everyone on board. Clifford says the ship owner is guilty of the deaths of all those people because he did not have sufficient evidence that the ship was sea-worthy. Instead he put his trust in providence. Clifford says, “he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him.” And, “he had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts“.

A rise in temperature of 4C by the end of this century is a very real and frightening possibility. Scott Morrison will not be around then but his children will be and their children will be. What does 4C look like? Most of the equatorial belt will be uninhabitable to humans. The Sahara desert will spread into southern Europe and most of humanity will be forced to live in Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, and Alaska. The sea level could be 2m higher.

The Guardian recently announced it was changing its language when reporting about climate change to better emphasise the urgency of the problem. Climate change will now be referred to as a climate emergency, crisis, or breakdown.

Last year the BBC admitted that it often gets coverage of the climate emergency wrong by having a denier debate a climate scientist. It then states:

“Manmade climate change exists: If the science proves it we should report it.” In the section warning on false balance it says: “To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken.”

I think a shift in the language we use is important because for too long our scientists have been ignored.

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9 Replies to “Faith-based leadership and a climate emergency”

  1. A church nearby at work gave us some home baking and a note saying something like “Have these cakes. We’d like you to know that we are praying for you.” I agreed with one of our leaders said they found it creepy. Another one said “I thought it was sweet!”
    Having been a member of a church, I found it patronising that an organisation would feel that we need the “help” of their prayer based on *their* values and judgements. Evangelical churches are convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong. There’s also an evangelical thing I dislike where they feel that if they do something “nice” for you, you will somehow fall into place with what they want.

    1. That is a bit creepy. I wouldn’t have liked it either.

      It’s fine for people to have a religion and I think they should have the freedom to practice it but it’s not right to governments to base policy on their religious beliefs. Religion is personal and should be kept personal while policy should always be evidence-based.

  2. Good post! This reminds me of another progressive pastor here in the US who said it was wrong to pray for selfish wants when God has given us the freedom to decide for ourselves what we want to do with our lives and this planet. I don’t buy into organized religion very much these days, especially when hypocritical politicians who voted against emission control bills and carbon taxes tell Californians after an explosive summer of wildfires and drought that they are praying for us. Prayer doesn’t mean a thing in those circumstances; it should not be a substitute for climate policy, which we’re so lacking in the US as well.

    1. Yes, I’m not at all religious and even sometimes feel despair at religions when I see the problems they cause. Religion is a private and personal matter and should always remain that way, never mixing with politics.

  3. I’ve never dared write about it, but I’ve often wondered how religious people would react if they were turned away at the doors of a hospital, because… well… if it’s “God’s will”, then what are you here for ?

    1. Yes, good point. They don’t mind trashing the climate for future generations but when it comes to their own health they follow their doctor’s advice.

  4. I’m not sure I would be happy about a ‘Coal-ition’ Government… The name sounds dodgy in itself… As for prayer… We had some people come up and do a prayer with us when I was in active Labour with Jeannie, it took all my fortitude not to tell them to F#*k off and let me get on with it. Then with William, some ladies came over on the pretence of worship… They then proceeded to say that breastfeeding William in church was objectionable…and proceeded to show me some scarves I could cover myself with… I was absolutely horrified. When I told the plunket nurse what happened, she suggested I should have shown them where to place those scarves… Around their eyes! Wish I’d thought of that… I went through a stage where I would help supervise the kids while everyone else got their ‘Jesus Fix’. When the offers of help for me dried up I refused to be looking after up to 8 kids on my own with no one else to help me. One of the youth pastors kids was under the table and I could not get her out. I can’t remember why she was under the table except I had no one I could send out for help and thought ‘shit` Imagine if she was choking and I couldn’t safely supervise the others. I made sure a roster was drawn up so we had a safe set up. Some of the older ladies refused to help… And I thought being a Christian was about helping others… Strangely enough my kids have taken on my reticence to attend church. If I don’t feel comfortable going, of course the kids will notice!

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